Rachel Allen's new cook book was inspired by friend battling cancer

Every culture has a soup dish, and they’re a great winter feed for all the family. Ballymaloe chef Rachel Allen tells CHRIS DUNNE she has dedicated a book to it
Rachel Allen's new cook book was inspired by friend battling cancer

Rachel Allen. Picture: Joanne Murphy

RACHEL Allen has many strings to her bow: wife, mother, teacher at Ballymaloe, author and TV host. She is also a loyal friend.

“When I was thinking about my next book, I thought of my friend Helen Cuddigan when she was going through cancer treatment,” Rachel says. “I used to make her sea-beet soup which gave her a little boost and a bit of a hug.

“So when I met my agent Jenny, I had the idea of Soup Broth Bread. I was ready to write about something specific again, and move into one subject with some hearty bread recipes included. Soup Broth Bread was my lockdown project.”

Rachel has a soup for all seasons.

“The book is sorted by the seasons, Spring, summer, autumn and winter, with all soups suitable for the specific time of the year,” says Rachel. “Also included in the following chapters are garnishes and accompaniments, bread, and stocks.”

Rachel Allen’s latest book, Soup Broth Bread, which has 120 recipes and other advice.
Rachel Allen’s latest book, Soup Broth Bread, which has 120 recipes and other advice.

Rachel clearly loves these foods.

“Anyone that knows me knows that I am passionate about soup!

“There is no better food to warm the heart and restore the soul. Whether it’s smooth or silky, rustic or chunky, or light and brothy; soup conjures up feelings of cosiness and care for me,” says Rachel, who is married to Isaac and who has three children, Joshua, Lucca and Scarlett.

“When I was growing up, my mother always had a pot of chicken or turkey stock bubbling away, ready to work its magic in one of her great soups for when my sister, Simone, and I got in from school.”

The warming, comforting soup did the trick. “It not only fed our bellies, it fed our hearts and it turned us into avid soup-makers too.”

Rachel’s own home is full of soup fans, with mum or dad ladling it up for the family.

“Now my own home is filled with soup appreciators,” says Rachel. “It is the first thing I offer to our children if they’re feeling under the weather, (after a hug of course)!

“Our daughter even takes broth or soup in a flask for her school lunch; a little bit of home from home.”

Home-made soup is good for soul.

“It helps soothe everything from a sniffly cold to a tired body after a tough day,” says Rachel. “Soup is the ultimate fixer.

Accompanied by crutons or crusty bread, it makes a nutritional meal.

“I think soup appeals to a wide range of people,” says Rachel “I love how it is at the heart of every country throughout the world. And few foods have travelled so globally; you are nearly guaranteed to find ramen, chowder, laksa, pho, and minestrone in any city.”

Rachel often indulges in a welcome bowl of soup after a day teaching at Ballymaloe Cookery School.

“Isaac makes delicious prawn soup, he created a recipe and it is really lovely.” Isaac also had a hand in designing the cover of the book.

“He had the idea of stacking bowls together and he went to the kitchen cupboard and got four Stephen Pearse soup bowls. We stacked them on the table, and the image worked really well for the cover.”

Soup has many qualities.

“There’s an age-old South American proverb that says, ‘good broth will resurrect the dead’. Indeed, years ago, when a dear relative of mine was really unwell, homemade organic chicken broth seemed to have magical effects that had our whole family delightfully flummoxed.

“Whether it was the placebo effect from being cared for, or the fact it was easily digestible, that enabled it to work its spell, we’ll never know.”

Soup is a big part of the Allens’ lives.

“It is so steeped into the fabric of my family’s life that I roast a chicken at least once a week, in part for the ritual of making fresh stock,” says Rachel. 

“I believe if you’re going to invest in good meat and vegetables, it makes sense to get the maximum value out of it all. There is no better way to extract all the goodness from left-over bones than to boil them up with nourishing vegetables and aromatic herbs. The nutrients can really help to boost our immune system, our gut, our brains, hormones, skin, and of course, our mood.”

Rachel Allen. Picture: Joanne Murphy
Rachel Allen. Picture: Joanne Murphy

Making home-made stock is second nature to her.

“I love having a rummage around my fridge and seeing what needs to be used up and turned into a soup.

“It’s spontaneous and creative and a terrific way of learning how different flavours work together, as well as being a great way to use up left-overs. So many cooked vegetables can be turned into a soup once you have a few other ingredients at hand. Cooked meat and seafood can also be transformed into a chunky broth or chowder with a little know-how, and left-over rice or pasta just love being given another lease of life in a beautiful bowl of soup.”

Rachel leads a busy life, but still finds time for another passion of hers besides cooking: sea-swimming.

“After my dad passed three years ago, my sister Simone suggested I swim in the sea to lower my stress levels. She said it would be good for my head. I live so near the sea, I decided I’d give it a go,” says Rachel.

“I went one or two mornings with my sister in Dublin, and I found it very beneficial. 

"I said it to my friend Helen and we began sea-swimming nearer home. We kept it up and now I go in the sea every morning. The blood rushes to the organs and the endorphins produce a sense of euphoria. I thoroughly recommend it!”

Soup Broth Bread contains 120 recipes. What else is on offer?

“Alongside my recipes for soup, you’ll also find recipes for beautiful accompaniments and garnishes to bling up your bowl,” says Rachel.

“Different sauces, salsas, drizzles, oils and emulsions will liven up even the simplest soup, not to mention delicious crackers, croutons and crumbs. You’ll discover loads of them in the book, and suggestions for which soup to serve them with.”

There is a chapter devoted to breads in the book, perfect to go with a bowl of home-made hearty soup.

“Yes, plus savoury buns, flatbreads, scones and muffins, including recipes for particular dietary needs,” says Rachel.

Soup Broth Bread is a good staple to have in any kitchen, with tips on storing, freezing, essential soup equipment, ingredients and presentation.

The impressive cook-book would make a good stocking-filler for Christmas. Rachel has gathered together every recipe for soup you could ever want.

“I think people will like it,” says Rachel.

Soup Broth Bread, €25 from all good bookshops.

RECIPE FROM RACHEL’S BOOK

Simple Celery and Nutmeg Soup

Ingredients

1 tblsp butter

1½ large, (300kg), onions, chopped.

6 large celery stalks

5 cloves of garlic, chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

750ml vegetable or chicken stock

½ teasp grated nutmeg.

Method

  • Put the butter into a saucepan over a medium heat and melt until foaming.
  • Add the onion, celery and garlic. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Cover with a butter wrapper or a piece of parchment paper and the saucepan lid.
  • Turn the heat down to low and cook really gently, stirring from time to time, for 10 minutes until the celery is tender.
  • Add the stock and the nutmeg and turn the heat up to high. Bring the mixture up to the boil and cook for 2 minutes, then blend until smooth.
  • Season to taste, adding a little more nutmeg if necessary. Serve steaming hot in mugs or bowls.

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